Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Woo! Solium Infernum!

Hurray! Solium Infernum is being released today! It's by Cryptic Comet, that also made the excellent Armageddom Empires. I got a chance to beta test this, and even got my name in the credits, very cool. Thanks to Vic Davis for giving me a chance to try it out and test it.
Solium Infernum is a turn-based strategy game set in Hell, and I've had a blast with it. The focus is more on diplomatic maneuvering and cloak and dagger moves than direct combat, and that's a plus for me. You're limited to only a few actions total per turn, which helps give every decision more weight. Do I want to move that unit to protect that place of power? Or buy that artifact I've had my eye on in the Bazaar? Or should I commit one of my precious moves to demanding tribute, so I can have enough souls to bid on that Praetor to give my legion that extra bit of power? It can be very tense in a good way, juggling three different objectives and jockeying for position.
I certainly recommend you at least try it. It can be a little inaccessible at first, but just give the manual a good read and keep it open the first few times you play, and you'll get the hang of it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Saint's Row 2

I just got Saint's Row 2 for PC this week, since it's currently on sale at Direct2Drive for $5. And it's a blast, if more than a little unoptimized.

The story's nothing that will win awards, the 'taking back the streets' theme is a little tired. The humor's a little crude, but it's good enough to earn a cheap laugh or two. But it's damn fun to mess around in.

The best way to describe it is as a huge cartoon sandbox. You can pick trash, rocks and people up and use them as weapons. Clothing and cars are customizable to a surprising degree, down to the pattern on your tie or whether your shirt is tucked in or not. You're rewarded for everything - driving on the wrong side of the road, kicking people while they're down, flinging yourself from your car in a crash - everything. The rewards make just driving around the city satisfying, since you're never without something to do. No matter where you turn, there's a diversion, as the game calls them. And I've had more fun with these than I have with the actual missions.

The FUZZ diversion, where you impersonate a police officer for a COPS-like show, is exactly how the Vigilante missions in every GTA should have been. You're given random crimes to deal with as brutally as possible in order to get higher ratings for the show. The crimes range from riots to streaking to carjacking. The best part is the police join in on your side, and assist as you violate the civil liberties of criminals everywhere. The police attacking you in the GTA Vigilante missions always ruined the fun for me, even if that's a tad more 'realistic'. The variety of crimes, police siding with you, and generally higher level of mayhem make it a lot more entertaining.
The only problem I have with the FUZZ diversion is that the time limits are a little harsh, and I'm rather have more time to mess around, but you can restart with little to no hassle.

The performance issue is the only thing holding the game back for me - the stuttering while driving is terrible, although part of that might be my computer specs, a lot of it seems to be poor optimization for the PC.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Far Cry 2 Map: Dogon Arroyo

Yes, another Far Cry 2 multiplayer map. I just really got into a groove these past few weeks, I really like this editor. It's amazing to be able to make believable outdoor environments so easily, the terrain tools and collection system make it a breeze.

This one is set in a canyon lined with the ruins of a Dogon village, the focal point being a natural bridge that links the paths running along the tops of the canyon walls.
Players have three paths to choose from: through the canyon and under the rock bridge, or along either side of the canyon walls.
Through the canyon is the fastest, most direct route to the other base, but there is very little cover and enemies on the canyon walls can rain down withering fire from the heights and safely toss grenades from out of sight. But, unless someone comes to the very edge of the canyon wall and looks down, you'll most likely stay out of sight. Also, the canyon floor is covered with grass, and can easily become a death trap if both ends of the canyon catch fire if a Molotov or two is tossed down.
Atop the canyon walls, there's cover from the Dogon ruins along one side, and just bare rock along the other, although this bare side is slightly sunken, and it's easier to stay out of sight from the other side of the canyon wall. It's a fairly simple map, very straightforward, with lots of action in one central arena.

As far as my thought process goes, I was originally thinking of the tunnel from de_dust in Counter-Strike - a sunken area with commanding points above it on either side. The raised balcony directly across from the entrance on the CT side makes it into a sniper fest, but hopefully having a way to cross over the tunnel in my map will balance this out. I just wanted to see if I could take that one element and make a map out of it, and I think it turned out well.

To download, search for "Dogon Arroyo" in the in-game map browser. As usual, I would really appreciate any feedback.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Far Cry 2 Map: A Bridge Between


Another map for Far Cry 2! This one I designed as a Capture the Diamond map from the start, and I tried to include an interesting central feature: the elevated wooden bridge that runs across the middle of the map, as seen in the screenshot above. This bridge helps to split the map between the two factions, and offers a risky but quick path across the map, and unsafe sniping spots, besides being a unique feature that hopefully people will remember, and a good central landmark. This map is a little tighter and more focused than Last Stop, my last attempt at a Far Cry 2 map, which I think had too much space between the spawns and objectives, so you should be able to get to the action faster in A Bridge Between.

One thing I noticed is there are sniping spots very near the spawns where the other team's diamond location is visible (on top of the oil tanks, and on top of the UFLL diamond building), which I think is alright. These sniping spots are very open with little cover, so they'd be hard to camp from, and there are plenty of alternate routes to and from the diamond, but not so many that you won't run into someone from the other team. The sniping spots make the player very visible, so you trade a good view for exposing yourself to fire from all over the map.
I playtested it a lot by myself, but I don't know anyone else with the game to playtest it with, so if you have any feedback, as usual I'd love to hear it. I'm confident that this is a better attempt than my last.

To download, search for "A Bridge Between" in the in-game map browser.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Far Cry 2 Map: Last Stop


Besides playing Mercenaries 2, I've finished a Far Cry 2 multiplayer level: Last Stop. It supports all the game modes (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Diamond and Uprising), and is set in a valley hemmed by cliffs, with a railroad spur line running into it, terminating in an abandoned train station at the end of the valley, with a junkyard on the other side. It was designed with Capture the Diamond mode in mind.
As an aside, I really felt like working on maps with objectives for a change, as opposed to just straight deathmatch. Hence why the HL2:DM level I talked about in an earlier post didn't really get anywhere. As amazing a game Half-Life 2 is, the combat isn't all that compelling for me, with the gravity gun being the only unique feature, and that's more of a novelty than a core component of the combat. I just in the mood for making objective based maps, which Far Cry 2 has. Plus the combat feels solid, really tactile, like I'm actually sliding around in the dirt, tossing grenades and firing guns, it really succeeds in that respect.

Back to the map, I think I provided the right mix of cover and open space, with multiple paths to the objective and plenty of room to flank. I tried to keep the concept of "multiple paths" in mind, and I think I succeeded on a micro scale: from almost every piece of cover, there is more than one piece of cover that you can reach. You can brave the main road, out in the open with machine gun emplacements covering it from either end, or stick to the sides under the cliffs, using the long grass and trees for concealment. I was really feeling the train yard part of the map, and started by just laying out track and the station, and starting from there. The cliffs were added around the rail, kind of haphazardly, but I like the way it looks. I tried to leave openings so it seemed connected to a greater world, and wasn't just an arena. The warehouse end opposite the train station wasn't as inspired, but I think it works. I tried to keep everything spaced equally, positioning the spawns, diamonds and vehicles about the same distance apart for each side.

I haven't seen very many custom CTD maps with a lot of open terrain, and I'd love to try it out, but it's hard to find people to play with, and it's hard to get a map to stand out enough to get downloads, with clones of levels from other games taking the spotlight. But, I think I'm going to try another map, now that I'm settled into the editor, which is an absolute pleasure to work with. I only wish more level editors were more polished and straightforward to use. I really wish they would have released a single player editor as well, since Far Cry 2 cries out to be modded.

Search for "Last Stop" in the in-game custom map browser. I'd love it if someone wanted to host the map, so I could get some more feedback. Enjoy!

Mercenaries 2: A Love/Hate Relationship


I've started playing Mercenaries 2 again, and I'm not entirely sure why. I've already beat it, but I started up a new campaign last week and I'm already halfway through. It's a terribly buggy unpolished game.

Examples of the bugs and general annoyances (Many, many examples):
  • The soldiers yell out wrong phrases - whenever I hijack a helicopter, the male pilot I've just thrown to their death yells "I've killed the merc!" in a female voice with a heavy Jamaican accent.
  • The random quips the AI soldiers make are usually wrong, repeated way too often, and very grating. If you make the mistake of picking up some UP mercs in your vehicle, you get to listen to them complain about the heat with the same two lines, every thirty seconds. I stopped the car, got out, and beat them to death in the street about the second time this happened.
  • There's not much point in taking allies along anyway. They usually die in the first few seconds of an engagement. If you're lucky, they'll toss a grenade at your feet as they fall. If they're manning a gun that shoots explosive rounds, they have an unfortunate tendency to fire at point blank range, blowing up the vehicle they're riding in.
  • There's almost no point in using guns when you can run up to someone and bash them in the face, instantly killing them. It's quicker than getting in a firefight and way, way overpowered.
  • The AI is questionable at times - soldiers that spawn on rooftops love to jump off to their deaths. Enemy drivers will gladly step out of their vehicle and let you take it if you so much as point a gun at them. Your allies will continue to fire on a vehicle as you're hijacking it, sometimes destroying it just as you finish another painful hijacking quick time event.
  • The quick time events are a huge pain. Especially on the PC, since instead of flashing the exact key you need to press, like "E" or "Shift", they flash an icon that represents the action the key is bound to. That extra second it takes to tell if that waving fist is the melee attack or use is one second too long. Some of the harder sequences for attack helicopters and heavy tanks take multiple tries for me, running through it until I have the sequence memorized long enough to forget it before the next hijacking attempt.
  • Speaking of quick time events, if you fail one while trying to hijack a helicopter, afterward the pilot has a tendency to be sitting six feet to the right of his helicopter, floating in midair.
  • There are some serious pop up issues - buildings and walls will pop up a few seconds after you've driven into them, trapping you inside. I failed at least one mission because of the pop up - the Pirates have you hauling rum in the back of a truck that can fall out as you drive. Only the rum spawned before the truck, so I instantly failed the mission since the cargo was crushed under the wheels before I could even get there.
  • Machine guns, road blocks and obstacles can sometimes spawn six feet above the road. Enemies occasionally spawn inside rocks and buildings - especially frustrating if they're calling for reinforcements and it's impossible to kill them.
  • Damage is inconsistent. Signs and small rocks will take a quarter of your vehicle's health if you bump into them, but you can slam through guardrails and telephone poles no problem. You take ten points of damage if you fall walking down stairs, but you can fall from a helicopter and live.
I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Most of these can be seen within a few minutes of play, should have been spotted in QA testing, and could be fixed with a simple patch. I would tell Pandemic about the bugs I've found, but there's no contact info anywhere on their official site - only a link to EA Support, which told me they don't answer questions unless they're about "technical" issues. The PC patch that has been released fixes only a handful of hardware compatibility issues and a few graphics tweaks, but all the above bugs still remain. Another patch was promised sometime last year, to no avail.
The reason I still care is that besides all these issues, there's still a fun game there. Blowing stuff up is fun, and when the game sticks to that, it can be a blast. But all these little quibbles add up, and they break the immersion factor and cause some serious frustration at times. The gameplay itself isn't perfect: there are way too many timed races and trials that flat out aren't fun, and the world isn't lively enough to just wander around in like you can in GTA 4 - there's not the sense of being in a living, breathing place, partially due to the stupid pedestrian dialogue and behavior and the dozens of bugs. There needs to be more battles taking place in the world, more action when you're not in a mission so there are more opportunities for the player to make their own fun. For me, that's the point of having a sandbox game, being able to decide what you want to do in the world without having it be in a structured mission format.
There were so many possibilities, but I'm afraid Pandemic either ran short on money and/or time to polish and test the game. I also hope they will open up to the community a little more. I understands that means having to filter through a bunch of pointless mail, but I'm sure there are jewels of feedback, especially when there are this many bugs.

If anyone knows a way to get in contact with someone at Pandemic or is at Pandemic, I'd love to hear from you. I'd be happy to provide more evidence of these bugs if there was any chance of getting another major patch for the PC version.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Game Design Challenge Brainstorming: The Crisis of Credit

Over at Game Career Guide, the biweekly Game Design Challenge is design a game that explains the global credit crisis in a fun way. I've been brainstorming this for a couple hours, and I can't think of a good way to approach it.

First off, there are so many variables involved, it seems difficult to pin the cause of the crisis down. The video they linked breaks it down, but even then there appear to be many causes: the low interest rates made T-bills unappealing and borrowing cheap, which caused lots of speculation and use of leverage. Then the demand for securitized mortgages caused investors to call for more mortgage backed securities, which caused mortgage brokers to offer mortgages to high-risk borrowers, who for the most part defaulted after being led into getting into mortgages they couldn't repay or lying about their income and getting a loan anyway. These defaults led to lots of houses being on the market, and this along with the housing bubble bust caused house values to plummet, which made the mortgage based securities basically worthless.

There's much more to it, but even this simplified version seems hard to turn into a game. I'm still thinking of it from a simulation perspective, and I'm not sure that would work, since it is such a complicated issue. It just seems if you're trying to teach about it, there should be some sort of lesson. And since it's a game, there should be some sort of meaningful choice, some decisions to be made by the player. And who should the player be? An investment banker? A person trying to buy a house? A mortgage broker? Each one of these in turn? Or maybe an omniscient view, where they can see where everything when wrong? What could the player have control over that would be interesting, what interesting decisions could they make from these viewpoints?

I was originally thinking of having the player follow the path of the mortgage, starting as the person buying a house, shopping for a mortgage, seeing their choices, then becoming a mortgage broker trying to sell the mortgages, so on and so forth until they zoomed out and saw the whole picture. But the decisions at each point are basically automatic - do I buy a mortgage based security or not - or really boring - who wants to have to shop for a mortgage in a game? And then what would each of the steps teach you?

Maybe the key is to break the crisis down to the root cause. This cause seems to be a lack of transparency - homeowners didn't know they wouldn't be able to pay back the mortgages, and investors didn't know this either. None of people involved seemed to see the crisis coming, or didn't care as long as they were getting money. So how lack of transparency be a game mechanic? Hiding information in a game is usually frowned upon - it's frustrating because the player doesn't know what's going on. Can that rule be broken for the sake of teaching? And was data really hidden from the actors involved, or did they willingly deceive themselves into thinking it would all be ok? And if that's the case, can a game replicate that same feeling - where you tell yourself everything will be ok, even though it's going to end in disaster?

I'll have to sleep on it. I know there's a solution, I'm just having a hard time brainstorming it. But the process so far has shown me that educational games can be hard - to be able to teach complex subjects through doing, not showing or telling. I can visulize the issue, I could tell someone else about it now, but I'm not sure how to make it into a game. Maybe some research into other educational games is in order.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I finally started a Twitter account(@samuelcom), at the urging of Brenda Brathwaite (@bbrathwaite). Well, she didn't tell me personally, but her blog post did, and I was contemplating it for a while. Don't expect a blow by blow account of my every action, though. You should get one too. Bandwagon, woo!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brainstorming for a HL2:DM Level

I've started brainstorming for another HL2:DM level, and this excellent article, "Basics of effective FPS encounter design" from Fullbright has helped me frame criticism of my first published level design attempt, dm_light_industrial. Unfortunately, apparently somewhere in the Snarkpit update, the comments were lost, but one that I still remember was that there were too many dead ends - basically that the level didn't flow, and it was a little generic, which I have to agree with. I didn't really understand the too many dead ends comments, but I think I do after reading Steve's post. It's geared more towards single player map design, but it still helped.
His article gives three basic guidelines:
  1. Varied, clustered cover
  2. Circular navigability
  3. Observability
Summed up, hallways make for uninteresting combat areas and there needs to be more than the binary choice of moving forward or back, with alternate paths that encourage both players to take risks, and the players need to be able to see these choices, and start in a position where they can survey the layout and make their decisions.
Unfortunately, I think dm_light_industrial failed in all three concepts to some degree or another. The map is basically hallways, broken up with rooms at the end, with a few hubs. There are quite a few areas that dead end, and I see now these areas are deathtraps, with no way out and no choices besides fighting your way out, which can be frustrating.
Also, there is no central focus to the level, the one "arena" area is too small and too hard to navigate, with very little cover. It needs to be much bigger, with more hiding spots and cover, and pathways all around the outside of the focal point. I think my next attempt needs to include at least one of these arena areas, a lot more cover, no tight hallways, and a compelling theme. I also need to playtest with other players a lot more, I only got a chance to play it with one person, and just that helped quite a bit.
I'll have to brainstorm a bit more, but I will probably have a rough outline sketched up in the near future. If anyone plays the map and has any more tips, I'd be grateful.

PS: Steve Gaynor's "make cool shit and show it off" entry is also worth a read.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Game Design Interview Continued

This would have been nice to have for my interview - Game Job Interview Questions And How to Answer Them. Questions 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 12 came up in mine in some form or another. I think my responses were alright for the most part, but I know I flubbed the "Do you have any questions?" part. I asked what the day to day responsibilities would be for an intern, and I don't think that was specific enough. The article has a list of what look like pretty good questions at the end.

I don't think I was enthusiastic enough in my interview, since the interviewer told me as much in the follow-up email I sent. I think a lot of that was being nervous, which I really shouldn't have been, but I think to improve my confidence, I need to have more completed work. Right now I have three multiplayer maps made. I need some single player content, and just more content in general. I also need to polish up my portfolio website, and more it to it's own domain, but I'll worry about that once I have more content to show off.

I have a plan worked out for this summer to treat building levels and games as a job, scheduling out a time every day to work on something, and that doesn't mean blogging or gaming or surfing the web, it mean mapping or designing quests or writing design documents. This summer is going to be my last block of free time before I start job hunting, so I need to get some work done. My plan right now is to try another HL2 : Deathmatch map first, since I know there's a community for it and I know Hammer and the Source engine pretty well, then something for Fallout 3, to demonstrate my quest design, writing and single player design skills. That should be good for a start, and if I have more time, probably a single player map for Half-Life 2 or a map for Men of War. I'll have more to update on that when I'm done with finals and back home for the summer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fallout 3 Thoughts

I've started up Fallout 3 again with a new game, abandoning my first after I actually stumbled upon Vault 112 before I was supposed to. I never bothered to trek to GNR or any of downtown Washington, since I took the Blood Ties quest in Megaton my first playthrough, and that took me out into the wastes instead.

I felt a little cheated skipping over such a big part of the story, I was just exploring and tripped on it, which I think made it a bit more rewarding experience. I was just looking for ammo and stimpacks in an abandoned gas station, and it was a complete surprise to find a fully functional vault in the basement. It felt like I had done all of the work, there wasn't a quest arrow pointing me right to it, even though I did miss out on the storyline missions that led up that far.

But having now played the part I skipped, I don't think I missed out on that much. The city feels artificial and claustrophobic compared to the wasteland. The convenient rubble piles that block the city streets pop up way too often, dividing the city up into pockets of gameplay, with the Metro interlinking it all. I understand why the blocks are there, to keep the "fun per square inch" up and avoid players getting easily lost and bored in featureless ruins, and it does keep the game well paced. But it breaks the immersion every time I run into them, kind of like the wire fences in Stalker. I don't know that there's anything that could be done to fix that, it's part of the locked door syndrome that every game seems to have to some degree.

But the way the city areas are implemented in Fallout 3, it makes it hard to navigate without the ever-present quest arrows showing you the way. It removes some of the incentive to explore when there's something telling you exactly where you need to go, there aren't many incentives to wander off the set path if you're on a quest. This could be fixed - there aren't enough visible landmarks, which is kind of funny to say about Washington, D.C. But there's no way to just look around and know where you are or where your destination is. The Washington Monument could be a direct analog to the Citadel in Half-Life 2, a constant reminder of where the player is and where they need to go. A minor thing, but I think it could have helped a lot with immersion, being able to place yourself without opening the Pip-Boy 3000 and puzzling through the map.

On more of a theme/style note, Fallout 3 aims for a cartoonish, pulp comic, retro future feel when it's at its best - over the top bloody slowmo deaths in VATS that somehow never get old, cars exploding in mini-mushroom clouds, giant fire breathing ants - where it falls down is when it tries to be serious or make the player really care about the characters. I can't think of a single person in the game I can identify with. Not the inhabitants of Vault 101 and the barely believable Tunnel Snakes, not my in-game father with his phoned in lines, even the captives of the mutants are hard to relate to - I freed one only to have her run directly into another mutant camp and have her head blown off.

I think there are a variety of reasons I'm apathetic about the characters in Fallout 3. The mediocre to downright terrible voice acting - the combat taunts are unintentionally hilarious at first, then just grinding on the ears. Then there are the dialog options I'm given, which are really shallow. There's either "I love you and I'd love to help!" or "Fuck you!" without a whole lot of middle ground options or alternatives.

It's been a while since I've played the original Fallout, but I remember the characters being a lot more engaging, with deeper motivations, and more choice as to how quests turned out. It could jut be fuzzy memory, but I felt like I had more power and responsibility in the original Fallout. There was an entire vault at stake, that their lives depended on me, and I was told that from the start, with a deadline every time I opened my PipBoy, a handwritten note tracking the days of water left in Vault 13.

There's no such driving force in Fallout 3. My father is gone, I have to go find him because someone I've seen twice before with no authority says so, because I'm going to be killed by a character I saw for ten seconds earlier in the game. There's a negative goal: survive, but no overarching goal besides following my father. I'm following in someone else's footsteps, just like the title of one of the quests: but it's hard to feel like you're very important when your father has been to all of these places before. You're almost a supporting character. Even when you find your father and escort him back, he can't die, he can only faint. He could have basically done this himself.

The story of Fallout 3 doesn't put the player in a position to feel powerful, with the father's accomplishments looming over you. Maybe I'm reading too much into that, but I think it's part of it. There's nothing wrong with not making the player all powerful, and it gets boring being the only force changing the landscape in a open world RPG, but you're given very little power in the current game. You do errands for any Joe Blow that asks, the key characters are unkillable (unlike you), and almost all of the quests amount to glorified package delivery.

I don't want anyone to get the impression that I don't like the game - I've put more than 20 hours into two separate (partial) playthroughs, and I've enjoyed the exploration part, but none of the quests have been that rewarding. I've had to make my own fun, but the game allows for that. It's a sandbox to play in, and it's a big sandbox - I haven't even seen a quarter of the locations. I'll probably come back to Fallout 3, once I've seen the ending and the rest of the main quest myself.

I'm also considering starting a small mod, adding in a new dungeon. I need a portfolio piece, and Fallout 3 has a powerful, easy to use toolkit, so hopefully I'll have something to show soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elven Legacy Demo

I played the Elven Legacy demo yesterday, and it seems pretty solid, good turn based fun. The only feature that stood out as bad was the terrible tutorial. You're going to have me watch a video instead of walk me through it in the actual interface? Really? Besides having the cliched fantasy voice yell at me while I'm watching it, the voiceover kept clipping, the next sentence running over the end of the last one. The pacing was too slow - a veteran of the genre would be bored to tears and a brand new gamer would be confused and unsure, since all they have to go off of is a blurry video, then they're dropped into the interface. Why couldn't they just highlight buttons and walk me through it with tool tips? The interface is fairly simple, so there wouldn't be a whole lot lost if they just dropped it all together. Maybe have a little pop-up explaining camera controls at the first.
The ability to zoom in and see individual units was nice visual candy, but it doesn't do anything gameplay wise. What I liked was how archers could defend any friendly unit they're near, firing back at the enemy if the adjacent unit was attacked. Fairly simple, but it added a nice element of strategy. The semi-random upgrade options were also nice. Every time a unit levels up, three upgrade options are given at random, which adds a little variety as opposed to a pure tech-tree approach. What might be an even better improvement is getting benefits based on what the unit had done - if they've been fighting in the woods, they get a bonus to woodland combat, or bonuses against spearmen if they've been fighting an army's worth of them.
That's something I though was a little off in Civilization 4, how you could assign points to any specialty you wanted. That gives the player more control, so there might be a very good reason they went that way. I sort of feel like prototyping something up to test if bonuses based on actual unit experiences would be fun.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game Design Internship Interview

I had my first game design job (phone) interview Thursday, and it was pretty in-depth, around 45 minutes of questions. I made the small mistake of taking the call in a public place since it was scheduled as soon as I got off work. Ten minutes into the call a loud group moved into the room and I tried to get to a quiet spot, and succeeded in losing my cell phone signal and dropping the call. He called right back, but it was still embarrassing. So lesson learned. The interview was with one of the lead designers for the project I would be working on if hired.

A few of the questions asked and my answers - these are paraphrased, I took notes right after the call:

  1. What is the process you go through when making a level?

  2. I first sketch out a rough layout of what I have in mind, then block out the level in the editor I'm using, with just the basic untextured geometry. Then I play through the level, making sure I can move through the level smoothly, without getting caught in any of the spaces. Once the geometry is functional, I then add in the NPCs and some basic scripted events, and play through the level again, this time taking note of what enemy placements work or not, modifying the geometry or enemy placement as needed. Then I go back and start to add textures and polish, adding in 3D assets as they're completed, making sure every thing's going together well. (I don't think I included enough about the teamwork involved in making a level and how to ask for the assets you'll require, since most of the work I've done has been fairly independent.)

  3. What level are you most proud of, and why?

  4. I mentioned a level I made for a dodgeball modification for Half-Life 2 with a lot of raised areas and platforms floating in space, with large pillars in-between and supporting them for cover.

  5. What level made by someone else on your team to you most admire, and why?

  6. This was a map with conveyor belts, suspended over molten metal. This one took a lot of skill to maneuver in, and took the dodgeball arena concept somewhere I hadn't though of. Also, this was one of the first levels made for the mod that used cover, as opposed to the first where we emulated normal dodgeball, where every level looked like and was as bare as a high school gym. (The dodgeball mod wasn't really that good, I wish I had a better example here.)

  7. If you were in charge of designing ten levels for a game, what elements would you suggest the level designers use to make the levels unique and fun?

  8. I used the dodgeball mod as an example, and though that good use of cover, meaning the cover could be maneuvered around and countered by another player, and placement of balls that required the player to take a risk of some sort to pick up the balls, like leaving cover.

  9. On your last project, what were the basic elements that made up a good level?

  10. Basically the same as #4, it was sort of an extension of his question. (I think he asked this because I wasn't making a whole lot of sense in #4.)

  11. What's your favorite game of the last year? What were the best and worst parts of it? What would you do to improve the sequel for this game?

  12. I chose GTA 4, and explained how I liked the buddy mission mechanic, and how it took you from mission to mission smoothly, made the game flow better so you always had something to do, and added a lot to the story, revealing just a bit more about each character and the player's character in return for doing what basically amounted to chores. I then said I also disliked the buddy mechanic, since it didn't allow the player to explore on their own without being interrupted by basically required missions, unlike the previous games in the series, where it was easier for the player to make their own informal missions, if they were so inclined. I'm not sure what I would improve about the sequel. (I messed up here, I needed to have a game to talk about where I knew of a way to improve it. Far Cry 2 would have been a better choice, since I have a few ideas to improve it that I should make a post about sometime. I'm pretty sure contradicting myself didn't help.)

  13. What are you plans in the industry?

  14. My plans in the industry are to become a game designer, and hopefully a lead designer in a few years.

  15. What would you personally bring to the game industry? What area do you want to work on?

  16. I talked about how I wanted to improve storytelling, and he asked me what I though made storytelling in games different from other mediums. I said interactivity, the fact that the player makes up their own story to some extent, being able to make moment to moment decisions in gameplay, that each person playing the game will make their own unique experience, and I name-dropped Chris Crawford. I got on kind of a roll, then talked about the really important part of game design was making the player feel like they've made the right decision, even when they really didn't make a decision at all, the game made it for them, but they feel they had a choice, or at least that the choice they were forced to make was the best one, and the area of story in game design was where I wanted to work.

  17. Would you feel comfortable implementing other people's ideas?

  18. Absolutely, I think it'd be a worthy learning experience, by successfully implementing other people's idea I can see which of those work and what doesn't, and use them in my own work.

I think I did alright, but there's some serious room for improvement. I think a lot of what I need to know could be learned from an internship, or at least an example single player level completed for any game that I could talk about, that would have fixed a lot of the problems. So I need to have better examples, use Far Cry 2 next time, and write up a post on what I want to do to organize my thoughts. 

If anyone made it this far, do you have any suggestions? Anywhere I messed up that I didn't mention? Any tips for future interviews?